New Zealand gives Andy a Big Tick

New Zealand encounterBig Tick for NZ APRS and TransTasman Success

by Robert Brand

The New Zealand encounter with Andy’s (VK3YT) Pico Balloon (launched from Melbourne) has now ended. The low power from the Balloon payload will probably not be heard of again unless the Jet Stream turns the balloon around for another pass. It is unlikely to return, but there are some big changes in the Jet stream from time to time.Current predictions say it will head east and out into open water until the batteries fail.

It was fortunate that the balloon made it to New Zealand before the Jet Stream winds changed direction. The flight stayed over New Zealand for most of the day giving those interested in tracking it the opportunity to see where it was headed.

The balloon has been sitting at around 8,500m for most of the time in NZ. One APRS amateur radio station that was the first to receive Andy’s signals was also the last to track the balloon as it left New Zealand The APRS iGate received out packets and sent them to the Internet . Today I spoke with the owner of the iGate and there were a few interesting things that I should mention.

Warren Harris (ZL2AJ)  lives near Hastings in New Zealand and his antenna and receiver are at the top of a 720m hill. It is relayed down the hill by another radio link and into his iGate and on to the Internet. His radio received most of the packets from the balloon and only when the balloon was close to some other iGate receivers did they get the traffic.  I spoke with Warren about the balloon flight and he said it created a lot of “buzz” on the chat and email groups. Warren will write a story on this for NZ. Andy said that he will send a picture of the balloon to him for publications

Another interesting fact was that Warren’s iGate was broken yesterday with a faulty power supply. He fixed it last night without knowing that Andy’s balloon was on the way. It was only operational for a few hours before Andy’s balloon came over.

Andy (and I) want to thank all those in NZ that have APRS iGates and digipeaters. It is a great service for new endeavours. A special thanks to Warren whose iGate seems to outperform all others when it comes to ballooning.

TransTasman Balloon Breaks Records

Andy NZ TrackTransTasman Balloon Heads to the North Island

The record breaking balloon flight launched by my friend and colleague  Andy VK2YT continues to break records. It was thought that it would pass over the south island and out to sea, but it has changed course and headed north and is now crossing the stretch of water between the north and south island and will remain in range of HAM radio APRS trackers for many hours to come.

Launched from Melbourne, Australia on Sunday, it left the Australian coast just after midnight on Monday Morning and took just over 24 hours to reach New Zealand

A long range PICO balloon flight is under way. Predicted path is Melbourne – Sydney – NZ

Payload is an ultra-light APRS beacon transmitting 10mW on 144.575Mhz (NZ APRS).

Callsign is VK3YT-11

APRS tracking at!call=a%2FVK3YT-11&timerange=86400&tail=86400

Tracking with prediction at

Updates will be posted at

Andy NZ Track

Australia to New Zealand Balloon Success

Andy New ZealandTrans Tasman Balloon Success

Congratulations to Andy, VK3YT in getting his Pico Balloon from Melbourne Australia to New Zealand. The balloon crossed land in New Zealand at 1600 UTC (GMT)  17th March 2014.

The flight last tracked offshore from Sydney more than a day ago and the tiny balloon has been transmitting its signal over the ocean until it changed frequencies at 160 degrees longitude to the New Zealand APRS tracking system.

NZ Amateur radio station Zl2AJ-5 was the first to hear the tiny 10mW transmitter as it neared the coast. The balloon will likely pass over the country within an hour and sone after the transmitter will fail with the battery losing power.

A long range PICO balloon flight is under way. Predicted path is Melbourne – Sydney – NZ

Payload is an ultra-light APRS beacon transmitting 10mW on 144.575Mhz.

Callsign is VK3YT-11

APRS tracking at!call=a%2FVK3YT-11&timerange=86400&tail=86400

Tracking with prediction at

Updates will be posted at

Andy NZ


Andy’s Long Distance HAB Attempt

Angy Pico Flight to NZAustralia to New Zealand HAB Attempt

Last night I got word that my good friend Andy from Melbourne was attempting a long distance Trans Tasman Balloon attempt. I’m not sure if it qualifies as a High Altitude Balloon flight as it just gets to about 7km altitude and not the typical 20km to 30km. It is classified as a small balloon and does not require CASA permission to fly. Simply it is a foil balloon that cannot expand and a very light payload. In this case the tracking payload is a single AAA battery and a 10mW tracker. The payload weights only 13 grams. The balloon is set to float at about 7,000m and when Andy launched the balloon it was predicted to fly from Melbourne to Sydney and on to New Zealand.

Andy’s email said:

FYI, A long range PICO balloon flight is under way. Predicted path is Melbourne – Sydney – New Zealand.
Currently over Victoria Alpine National Park at 7000m, doing 125km/h.

Payload is an ultra-light APRS beacon transmitting 10mW on 145.175Mhz.   Callsign is VK3YT-11

APRS tracking at!call=a%2FVK3YT-11&timerange=86400&tail=86400

Tracking with prediction at

Updates will be posted at

 Expected to reach Sydney tonight, then it will be out to sea.
If the balloon survives tomorrow it might be within range of New Zealand APRS stations around 12:00 UTC 17/3

TX frequency will switch to NZ APRS frequency 144.575Mhz once 160.0 longitude is crossed.

Regards, Andy

Well around Midnight last night the little balloon tracked right over Sydney and if I had binoculars and it was daylight I could have seen it!  It was last tracked about 30km off Sydney headed to New Zealand. We are waiting to see if it arrives in New Zealand in a few hours.


Andy flight to NZ.

Rossby Waves, Hadley Cells and the Jetstream

Rossby Waves, Hadley Cells and Distorted Jet Stream

Seems that Global Warming has a lot to do with the difficulties we are experiencing with our weather. The Jet Stream is pretty neat without Global Warming and very predictable and so is the weather. Recently, the northern hemisphere experienced massive cool events and extremely cold weather. Why?

So what does the Jet Stream do normally?

The circulating air patterns create convection currents in four global locations—each current is called a Hadley cell. The pattern of air movement is toward the Earth (pro-grade) at higher latitudes (in the subtropics) and backward (up from the Earth) at lower latitudes (near the equator). The movement occurs near the Earth’s surface—within 6.2-9.3 mi. (10-15 km.). Its span across latitudinal markers remains within thirty degrees north or south of the equator. In this way, a Hadley cell moves heat from the equatorial region to regions within 30 degrees of latitude in either direction. Moisture is moved along with the heat.

Hadley Cells

Hadley Circulation provides westward wind flow at the Earth’s surface (Trade Winds) and eastward jet streams at higher altitudes. The circulating air patterns create convection currents in four global locations—each current is called a Hadley cell.


In a Hadley cell, the air rises to the atmospheric tropopause, which is the region at the top border of the troposphere and thus the bottom border of the stratosphere. The troposphere is the lowest atmospheric region and is where all weather takes place. At the equator, it reaches up to 11 mi. (18 km.) from the earth’s surface.

The next atmospheric layer is the stratosphere, extending to 31 mi. (50 km.) from the Earth’s surface. This characteristic air circulation results from the Sun’s rays heating the air at the level of the equator. Solar heating is strongest at the equator and weakest at the north and south poles, due to the direction of the Sun’s rays, and therefore currents of atmospheric circulation due to solar heating are more prominent at the equator.

Hadley Circulation was first described by George Hadley (1685-1768) to explain the science behind the trade winds. It was to replace a flawed model that had been presented by Edmond Halley (1656-1742). George Hadley was an early 18th century meteorologist by hobby and lawyer by trade.

In fact, Hadley’s theory was imperfect as well. It was corrected by American meteorologist William Ferrel (1817-91) at the end of the 19th century, but by this time Hadley’s name had stuck. The Hadley Circulation is traditionally defined as resting on the equator; in fact it rests on the “thermal equator,” or the Sun’s zenith.

Rossby Waves

Rossby Waves - Jet sStreamWarming Arctic May Be Causing Jet Stream To Lose Its Way. Echoing trends since roughly 2010-2011, NPR reports on how changes in far northern latitudes may be showing up in the skies floating above your house; here’s an excerpt: “…The temperature difference between the Arctic and lower latitudes is one of the main sources of fuel for the jet stream; it’s what drives the winds. And because the Arctic is warming so fast, that temperature difference is getting smaller, and so the fuel for the jet stream is getting weaker,” Francis says. “When it gets into this pattern, those big waves tend to stay in the same place for some time. The pattern we’ve seen in December and January has been one of these very wavy patterns...”

Image credit above: “The jet stream that circles Earth’s north pole travels west to east. But when the jet stream interacts with a Rossby wave, as shown here, the winds can wander far north and south, bringing frigid air to normally mild southern states.” NASA/GSFC.

Researching Balloon Launches in a New Country

Croatia LandminesBalloon Launches in a New Country – How To…

In the next few weeks, Jason and I will head to Croatia to oversee the balloon project of Team Stellar. So far we have been working with the team from afar and good communications are essential. We have email, Skype, Dropbox and more, so communications are good. We have been working with time issues to make sure everything happens in a timely fashion – there is a country wide student competition at stake. The students and their mentors are working hard so everything has to go well.

Our biggest problems are ones that we do not have here in Australia. We are used to having a very big launch and recovery area in Australia with few trees and little chance of water. It has good tracking and good mobile data coverage.

Croatia? Well there are plenty of unknowns for both me and the rest of the team in Croatia. The requirements are to keep the balloon in Croatia. This is hard. It is a small country with an unusual shape. The useful West to East range is only about 300km and it is pretty tight too.

That is Croatia in the map top right. So what are all the red bits? Stuff that we have to avoid! Things that we are not used to in Australia. They are land mines. We cannot afford to have our payloads drop anywhere near them. These are left over from the wars in the area from 1991 to 1995. These mines are still very new and deadly.

So what else we will have to contend with? Snow, mountains, poor Internet coverage, pine forests, unknown APRS coverage to name a few.

We will have all the risky stuff covered including cut-down systems to keep the balloons from going too far. Our best weapon is research. Knowing what the upper winds are doing is key to having the best chance of keeping the balloon in the country. We have a few resources to consider. Some we have already told you about.

I will be using the Jet Stream weather links for Europe:

Another is the historic movement of the jet-stream – basically you can get a feel for what is coming

Finally some prediction software from HABHUB – this set up for our project and Zagreb, but you can adjust for your own needs.:!/uuid=ebb514c8730df4df256e57ea997cdd122c65a736


I am now keeping records for the Jet Stream in Croatia each day (I missed yesterday). This will show us the main issues with the winds and how they flow. We have already found major differences between Australia and Croatia with total reverses in the Jet Stream over long periods. Australia seems far more consistent, but Croatia is closer to the northern boundary of the system that determines the winds, compared to where I launch from in Australia.  Here in Australia we are further away from one of the jet Stream boundaries. I will post more on that soon.

Here are the records for three of the last four days. I will have a month of records to get to know the way this all works.

20140311 Jet Stream  20140311 HABHUB prediction - 30km


20140312 Jet Stream  20140312 HABHUB prediction - 30km


20140314 Jet Stream  20140314 HABHUB prediction - 30km


The Z shape is common the many flights with the change in wind direction as the balloon rises from the Jet STream to the Stratospheric wind. Once the balloon bursts, the payload goes back through the same winds and the same eind directions get duplicated. It comes down faster, so the tail is a little shorter.

The prediction of the 4th day is a very good on for an easy recovery. It stays well in Croatia and away from the mines and can be launched from Zagreb. Simply we would not launch from Zagreb as we have little control of range. I only use Zagreb as a reference to see where the balloon will end up and the conditions that control the wind directions.

Balloon Launches in a New Country can be a real problem – even across a big country. Take care and research things well.

Stellar Stratospheric Balloon HAB Workshops

Bojan Markičević and workshopsBalloon HAB Workshops Scheduled in Croatia

What does it take to ensure that a major project like Stellar’s Stratospheric Balloon project works? Simply, lots of work by lots of people.

In recent days we have been examining the payload weights and requirements. Each experiment is allowed 150g or mass on board the balloons. None the less some have dangerous aspects such as fluids or heat generation. We have to ensure that their placement within our payload containment allows them to have the right “view”, air flow or whatever they require.  We rely on strong equipment descriptions and we have provided a wealth of information about designing and building payload containers, etc.

None the less, the contestants in what is effectively a competition have never done this before and simply, they need more assistance. To meet these needs we have assembled a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and our response. Stellar member Bojan Markičević will be traveling around Croatia and providing workshops for the various teams. The workshops have already commenced. The FAQ is below.

Download (PDF, 256KB)

Want to know more about this Stellar event?

Here are the details for our Balloon HAB Workshops – courtesy of Google translate:

Schedule creative Balloon HAB Workshops

Dear teams ,

Below is the schedule and locations of scientific and creative Balloon HAB Workshops. Workshops carried Bojan Markičević a period of 4-5 hours .

Also we want to remind you to forward information ( if possible , in English ) related to your experiments ( weight , volume , special handling ) to 10/03/2014 .
Please enclose as much information about your experiments , so that our technical team ( Robert Brand , Tim Blaxland and Vilko Klein ) could plan a schedule of cargo .

Workshop schedule :

10.3 . ( M ) – Sisak , location : Technical School Sisak , time : 10:00 / / Teams : Stream instantly impulse , Gorilaz , SOLAR TEAM

11.3 . ( T ) – Kutina , location : technical schools Kutina , time : 09:30 / / Teams : GRAVITY , SPACE JET

13.3 . ( Thu ) – Zagreb , location : High school Luciano Laurana , Time : 11:00 / / Teams : ASTRONITHYUS , Suave , TIM HELIOS , CROSTRATOS
14.3 . ( Five ) – Zagreb , location : First Technical School , Time : 11:00 / / Teams : X – TESLA , FAUST TEAM

18.3 . ( T ) – Metkovic , location : High school Metkovic , Time : 15:00 / / Teams : BHIS PRISM SPECTRUM

19.3 . ( W ) – Zadar , location : Vocational School Vice Vlatković Time : 13:00 / / Team : EIGHTBIT

20.3 . ( Fri) – Rijeka , location : Elektorindustrijska and crafts school in Rijeka , time : 10:00 / / Teams : ELECTRIC DREAMS , gymnasium Pula ( Pula )
24.3 . ( M ) – Osijek , location : Electrical Engineering and Traffic School Osijek , time : 13:30 / / THE Renewables , DEA

25.3 . ( T ) – Daruvar Location: Technical School Daruvar , time : 11:00 / / CRANES , Bjelovar STELLAR LABARATORY ( Bjelovar )

See you soon !

NASA EDGE TV Appearance

nasatvNASA EDGE TV and KickSat.

by Robert Brand.

I have long been both a watcher and supporter of NASA EDGE TV so it was great when asked if I would take part in a pre-launch interview for the KickSat project (aboard SpaceX CRS-3). NASA EDGE has changed from the early days when it was a little less polished and has now cemented a strong place in the NASA TV family.

NASA EDGE is a video podcast which explores different missions, technologies and projects developed by NASA. The program was released by NASA on March 18, 2007.  They also do live streaming video and I have been asked to take part the pre-launch activities for SpaceX Falcon9 launch in about 12 days’ time. I will be talking about the KickSat project that will be riding on board the rocket.  In fact a KickSat that I will part own will be on board, ready to fly into space and then into orbit as a complete spacecraft.

Watch out for the launch of SpaceX CRS-3 and of course KickSat

Things may change, but I will provide details as it gets closer to launch time. Let’s hope I’m still part of the program, but as a seasoned speaker, I know what can go wrong with any booking or any launch.

Want to know more about NASA EDGE?

What is NASA EDGE?


NASA EDGE. One NASA. Two hosts. Twenty thousand plus rocket scientists. We have liftoff!

NASA EDGE is different. Unscripted and unpredictable, NASA EDGE takes a unique look in and around the greatest space program on the planet.

Whether it’s the latest launch or the coolest gadgets, NASA EDGE hosts provide an offbeat, funny and informative look behind the NASA curtain. If you’ve ever wanted to learn about NASA but thought you needed to be a rocket scientist, wait no longer. Watch NASA EDGE and embrace your inner astronaut.





Jason (11 y/o) to Recover Balloons in Croatia

20130414 Jason Brand on the Fuzzy Logic Science ShowAustralian Student Recover Balloons in Croatia

Okay, I’ll be traveling with him to Croatia, but since there are two separate balloons to track and recover on two days, Jason will be well and truly tracking without my help and in a foreign country. He will have the team Stellar guys with him, but he will be doing the tracking and navigation for his vehicle. Stellar is a Team in the Google Lunar X Prize event. Have a look on Wiki to find out more.

jason is an 11 year old student in year 7 at Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus. At age 9 he obtained his Amateur Radio License (Foundation). We has some programing experience and builds and repairs helicopters and tricopters. He has helped track and recover 16 successful High Altitude Balloons and together Jason and I have the world’s highest recovery rate – 100% over an enormous number of missions.

A quick snapshot of the whole event:

We travel to Croatia at the start of the NSW school holidays. They are two weeks long. Jason and I will probably be traveling with fellow Team Stellar member Tim Blaxland. Tim is our team’s chief of UpLift-2Navigation. I look after the Team’s Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason is the Australian Student Representative and he is also my son.

Jason will be taking part in the planning phases of the mission and will have a big role in talking to the press and to school students. He will be bringing his newly built tricopter with him and he will be showing students what they can do with a little help. he will be talking about High Altitude Balloons (HAB) and the science of the troposphere and the stratosphere.

We will launch over two days and thus need to track 4 balloons – mostly with students experiments.  We have done our best to ensure success of Stellar’s “Balloon Stratosphere“.

Follow up interviews and more student mentoring and sessions.

Return to Sydney.

Much of this trip will be assisting the Croatian members of Team Stellar to get comfortable with HAB missions. Jason and I hope that we can pass on our expertise to the Croatian members.

Tim Blaxland already has some experience helping with a flight in NSW with us. That flight achieved nearly 37km altitude. We recovered the payload in a freshly cut wheat field a few weeks back.

More updates with travel and tracking information shortly. The picture below is Jason, Tim and I with some others preparing the recent balloon for flight. it is a 1.2kg balloon. Stellar’s balloons will be 3kg! That is the view from the payload camera.



Preparing Your Balloon Payload

Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in CroatiaPacking a High Altitude Balloon Payload

Below is a set of instructions I used to help some teams launch their balloon payloads in our upcoming HAB flights in Croatia. You might like to consider them a guideline to how you can pack a payload in light weight material for your flight. Of course you can use a Styrofoam box, but that is a bit of an overkill in the world of light weight  payloads.

If this helps, then please use the ideas and send us a link on your web page:

The Instructions:

Creating your experiment is the hard part, but finding something to put it in can be very difficult too. I have included some idea here that should help. Firstly, let me say congratulations in getting this far. It is great to see so many ready worthy experiments going into the stratosphere.

Let me start this paper by explaining what the out package is meant to do. The balloon will leave the ground and quickly rise in to the upper areas of the troposphere . Here is where jet aircraft fly and if you have ever flown and seen the outside temperature, displayed on the navigation screen, you will know it can get to around -60 C. Hopefully we will only have temperatures of around -50 C. By the time we reach 7km, there is more mass atmosphere below us than above us. In fact way more. This means that the atmospheric pressure is getting very low. At about 20km altitude, we will pass from the troposphere and into the small layer known as the tropopause. Look that up!

The stratosphere is next and it is very warm compared to the temperatures in the jet stream. It may reach -20C or in some places and on some occasions could reach an amazing 5 C. Since the balloon flies with the wind, there is very little force on the balloon during its flight. Even when the balloon explodes, the fall has little impact on the experiments. It is briefly like the “weightlessness” of space. A light foam package may reach speeds of 160kph in the thin air. As the air thickens the parachute slows the payload and we should have a light impact of only around 5m/s or 18kph. Finally what if it lands in water?

So, the main things that we need to combat are:

  • Pressure
  • Temperature
  • Weight
  • Landing impact
  • Water

A note on batteries. Very cold conditions will cause problems for some types of batteries. Alkaline batteries can be a big problem aand can fail during the flight. We recommend Lithium batteries as these resist the cold very well. They also last about 4 times longer than Alkaline batteries.

Weight is simple, each experiment is meant to weigh only 150 grams, including the packaging, so we are looking for very strong light weight packaging that will fit the size of our payload.

Pressure is less of a problem on the most part. Most things survive pressures close the extremely low pressures of space. We will expect about 1% of the pressure seen at sea level. Pressure does however make it hard to waterproof a payload. Waterproofing usually means sealing things up. That unfortunately will probably create an explosive effect on a large mass of air in any packaging.

Temperature of the payload – or cooling! Heat will leave your experiment quickly and freezing temperatures will probably be experienced at about 3,000m. from then on, your experiment will not return to temperatures above freezing until back on the ground. Check your battery specifications and we have some things that we can do to limit the effects on the battery. More on that later.

Landing Impact is not high. It is easy to cushion an impact of that size. You can run as as fast as that for a short time. The fastest human foot speed on record is 44.72 km/h. The cover still needs to cushion the impact.

Water. We hope to ensure that if it lands in water, we can still recover the experiments. Nothing will keep water out, unless you can make sure that there is no air in the packaging. Then it can be sealed totally. This will be difficult.

Suggestion 1 – Bubble Wrap

Sounds crazy, but bubble wrap can survive in space without the bubbles exploding. It achieves all of the objectives and can even keep water out. it is a good thermal insulator as it has trapped air, it is very light and can cushion impacts as well as floating. It is what I like to use if possible.  The electronics for UpLift 16 was wrapped in Bubble Wrap. You can see the wires  coming out of the package.

In the above picture, the three wires on the right terminate in a black temperature sensor for the outside air. By keeping it in the shade just beneath the bubble wrap, I was able to measure the temperature of the atmosphere at different altitudes. After landing, it was over 2 weeks before we went to recover the payload and the electronics were intact. In fact we did not even use a parachute. The bubble wrap provided the cushioning for a fall from the stratosphere. It also cause some air braking, slowing the fall. Since the battery was next it the electronics – separated by one layer of insulation tape, the warmth of the payload and the warmth of the battery are used to keep both as warm as possible by each adding to the internal heat. The bubble wrap simply slows the loss of heat.

The one thing to remember when using it is to wrap it three times. Also remember that the bubbles will expand and will apply some pressure to the payload unless loosely wrapped. It should be sealed with a light weight tape.


Suggestion 2 – Food container

Ever had takeaway food in a plastic container? These are very light and strong. If they land hard, they may crack, but that is about it. They are also rather air tight at time. If using these and you do not cut holes for sensors, cameras, wires, etc please remember to add a small hole to allow the air to exit and enter so that it does not blow the lid off the container or crush it.  The pin hole will not let in too much water if it lands in a lake, so it will float. You may still need some bubble wrap around the outside, but this is still very light weight. The ones pictured below weigh 33 grams

 Takeaway Food Container


Suggestion 3 – Paper Towel Roll

These are long and strong as well as light weight. Simply they work well. They are also very light weight – 10 grams. You can tape the ends for both securing the payload and increasing the strength. It is not water resistant, but there is almost no way of protecting your payload for the small possibility the payload landing in water. You can carefully cut the roll to form a smaller holder and lower weight.


Suggestion 4 – Toilet Rolls – Clean and Unused!

Make sure that the roll has not been used in the toilet please! Remove the paper and you will find a short roll about half the size of the paper towel roll weighing about 5 grams. Again, taping the ends will help in securing you payload and increasing strength.

Suggestion 5 – Kitchen and other containers

Look around the kitchen, the bathroom and almost anywhere in your office or home there are a variety of containers. Here are two more:

IMG_1947 IMG_1948

One is a cotton bud container weighing 20 grams – small but very strong. The other is a fruit container without a lid. You can cover the top with a rectangle of thin plastic – ensure air can escape. The cotton bud container weighs 20 grams and the fruit container weighs also weighs 20 grams but is very large in comparison.

Electrical Connections

It is important to ensure a secure electrical connection if using electronics. We suggest that all connections be soldered and also make sure that switches are not easily “knocked” to the off position. This can be easily achieved by cutting the top off a lever type switch – even a tiny ones. This means less of the lever to get in the way as well as less leverage. Similarly there are other switches such as slide switches. These can be accidentally knocked too. You can cut these down too. We can use a screwdriver to slide the switch as directed in your instructions. You can also go to your electronics shop and get a switch that may need a screwdriver to operate.

We can also suggest that you tape the switch to the “on” position so that it cannot be accidentally switched off if bumped during packing or during flight.

Alternatively, use a Plug and socket. these are robust. Below is a picture of a battery pack with a connector ready to be plugged into the payload.


These are small and very light weigh.

Final Tips

A few final tips:

  • Write your full details on a label on the payload.
  • Use a waterproof pen on the container.
  • We suggest that you use Lithium batteries and thermal insulation to keep your batteries (and possibly the payload) from freezing.
  • Have fun creating your experiment.
  • Stand back – we are doing science! 

As I said at the start, these are a few ideas for students participating in Team Stellar’s Stratospheric Balloon flight / Balon Stratosfera. I hope that some of this helps with your own balloon projects.


KickSat – Owning a Spacecraft.

kicksatKickSat – Our Personal Spacecraft

Hey, guys, be jealous. Be very jealous! Jason and I own 1/3 of a real spacecraft that will fly in 18 days aboard a Falcon9. It is a resupply craft for the ISS, so it will be in sight of the International Space Station. So not only will it fly in space, it will have been close to the ISS!

It is to be launched with a lot of others from a special box that will eject all of the Kicksats It is sometimes called the Mothership. After three days flying free after being released, our spacecraft will flutter back to earth somewhere, probably intact. It will never be found, but no matter. My very own (part of a) spacecraft will have flown in space and back. How many of you can say that! This will be one great space adventure.

Pictured top right is a prototype. I keep this in my wallet to show people how tiny a spacecraft can be. People just don’t believe it until they see it. The big silver area is where the solar panel sits. The computer and radio receiver and transmitter are the chip in the middle. HAM radio will supply the ground links. Yes, this is just one crazy experiment – a swarm of spacecraft all able to communicate with each other and with earth.

MissionClockSpaceX Falcon9 Resupply Mission

This launches in 18 days. There is a great iPhone App and probably one for Android. It is Called MissionClock. You can follow the launch of the Falcon9 and the KickSats. This is of special interest to the creator of MissionClock as he has also invested in a KickSat. The picture on the left is the main screen for the resupply flight and the KickSat mission. I have used this application for many years. It is really good and I recommend it.

Before the flight I will provide the links to be able to track the swarm and our little craft.

If you are a HAM radio operator, I can help organise the information that you need to help with the tracking.

This flight is ground breaking. It is both a swarm and a crowd funded flight.

The Flight in More Detail

Once in orbit, the Falcon 9 will release the Dragon towards the ISS and, a few minutes later, pop the KickSat mothership into orbit. Did you see the movie “Gravity”? The slight delay is to avoid a space debris disaster like the movie. It’d be a risk if all those tiny satellites end up pinging around the world at high speed in exactly the same orbit as the space station.

The mothership will spend at least seven days in orbit before the sprites (the tiny KickSats) are released. “There are some space debris mitigation concerns,” admits Zac Manchester – the creator of the project, “but we’ve worked with the ISS Program Office to make sure it’s safe for the ISS.” The sprites’ orbit is so low that they will only survive for around three days before the upper atmosphere drags them to destruction.

What do They Do?

Some of the sprites will do little more than go beep, like the original Sputnik, others will transmit identification codes and some will even be used for science. Those fitted with magnetometers – like the ones that provide your smartphone compass – will transmit data about the Earth’s magnetic field. Others will send back information on temperature, orientation or radiation.

Stay tuned for more details on the flight. It will end in about one month’s time. That is the mothership below ejecting the Sprites – or KickSats. Who owns the other 2/3rds of the craft? S some Facebook friends and I chipped in #100 each to buy this baby.

KickSat Mothership



The Moon Landing and Educational Activities – Team Stellar

Educational Activities – Team Stellar

I was part of a Croatian press conference via Skype in December. It was an unusual feeling talking to an audience that you could not see or hear. The press conference was for Team Stellar and the upcoming balloon flight in Croatia. Jason and I are going to oversee the balloon flight and recovery of the payload.

This is from the Team Stellar blogsite. The original link is here:

You really need to read this and other stories on the Team Stellar Blog:

Press conference 

This was a great month for space exploration . We all witnessed the Chinese Chang 3 having landed softly on the Moon, and Yutu (Jade Rabbit) rover is on its surface now. China has become the 3rd country in the world to put the robotic vehicle on the moon.

It is the first soft-landing on the moon by any spacecraft in 37 years. And it was especially interesting for us, all of the Google Lunar XPRIZE teams in the competition, because we are trying to do the same. There is only one small difference: we are doing it without the resources of the world economic superpower. Regardless, we strive to reduce the cost of the mission, we want to optimize each and every one of its segments, and that is our goal.

We want to get to the Moon as cheaply and as effectively as possible. We want to reduce all cost and make our technology commercially usable for the future.

Our COO Theo Valich giving interview for the television

Also, we held a press conference in Zagreb, Croatia to promote our educational outreach program, Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere. It was a great success. We want to spark interest of high school students in science and space exploration.  You can find out more on the subject on our webpage ,or on our social media pages and channels.

Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere – Croatia

Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere to Launch in Croatia in April

Jason and I are headed to oversee the launch of this flight in Croatia. It will be in the NSW School Holidays.

This is from the Team Stellar blogsite. The original link is here:

You really need to read this and other stories on the Team Stellar Blog:

Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere is our first serious educational program. That is why we have invested so much enthusiasm in its development. After a few months of preparations, uncountable work hours, eight creative workshops with over 130 participants, and many miles on the road, it finally starts. You can learn more about Balloon Stellar – Stratosphere competition here.

Group photo after the workshop in Metković, Croatia

Following the example of Google Lunar XPRIZE, we decided to offer a cash prizes to the most successful teams. We announced our competition everywhere and in every possible way.

We gave them an opportunity, and also the motivation.

We have prepared a special micro-site for the competition, we held a press conference, we were guests on TV on several occasions, and we were interviewed for the newspapers. Our social media pages and channels were constantly buzzing on the subject.

And now, all of our hopes have finally come true.  We have 21 teams in the competition! It is a great number of the teams, if you know that Croatia has the population of less than 4.5 mil. inhabitants.

We are more than happy with that number, but we are also very happy with the ideas for the experiments from high school teams.

You will hear more about the students’ experiments latter, but, in this post, I want to say something about creative workshops we have organized for the interested students.

The physicist Bojan Markičević, educational expert and communicator of science, was just the right person to conduct these workshops. Bojan has ten years of international experience in educational activities. He has a somewhat unconventional approach to knowledge transfer in relation to the classical education, especially in Croatia.

Bojan Markičević

Bojan traveled for over 2500 kilometers in just two weeks, in order to reach all of the teams (high school students) and encourage them to enter the competition.

He did not want to impose some ideas for the experiments or tell them what and how to do  them. The main goal of his creative workshops was to awaken their interest in science, and to prepare them for teamwork. Bojan has developed a series of activities for the 4-hour workshops which are interesting, refreshing and mind opening.

One of the activities during the creative workshop

He wants to include all of the participants in the conversation  to freely express their minds and to defend their opinions in a discussions, without any fear and reservations.

After the workshop, Bojan usually asks students to evaluate the workshop. They write their opinions about the workshop on the coloured papers, and stick them to the panel.


The high school students’ messages are clear, they find the workshops interesting, challenging, and they think that it helped them a lot to find a new perspective on the world around them. We are also hoping that Bojan`s workshops helped them learn the most important thing in science: how to ask the right question. When you learn how to formulate your question, only then you can conduct an experiment and find the right answer. Asking questions and finding answers, science is all about that.

Two days ago, we have published the names of the teams which entered the competition, and we wish all of them the best luck. Our balloons will fly the high school experiments this spring. Stay tuned.

Record Balloon (HAB) Attempt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAustralian or International Record High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Attempt?

It seems that some HAB friends along with my son Jason and I are going to attempt a Balloon (HAB) record. It may be an Australian record or an International record. The only question remaining is how we will do the attempt. It is a serious question and looks like it will be either a self funded exercise or one of good timing. As many of you know, Jason and I assist with commercial launches through my company, PlusComms. Several customers in the very near future will be  making flights using zero pressure balloons. These are amazing balloons that do not burst like weather balloons. They simply are huge envelopes that expand to their maximum size and any excess gas vents from the bottom of the envelope. They often look under-filled when the are launched and then as they ascend and the gases expand, the balloon fills to capacity. Right: is a small Zero Pressure Balloon from Raven Industries in the US. Alternately we can use a 3kg weather balloon. The record may be altitude, distance or both.

So we have 2 options:

  • A 3Kg weather balloon
  • Hitching a ride on a Zero Pressure balloon

3Kg Weather Balloon.

UpLift-1 ready to launch with help from the locals at Rankins SpringsThese are the domain of amateur balloon enthusiasts. Smaller balloons are affordable as are parachutes and trackers. By the time you travel to a good launch site, the exercise may cost US$500. These balloons are like standard party balloons. They are sealed envelopes and they expand until they explode. That is UpLift-1; our first flight: pictured on the right. 3Kg is the weight of the balloon alone. UpLift-1 carried a 500 gram payload (1 pound) and the balloon and parachute cost me US$75

By under-filling a 3kg balloon for a slow rise and making the payload a simple tracker, we would expect over 40km altitude. By using Hydrogen, we would get a lot higher. The cost of the balloon alone with shipping is over US$500. Our attempt would cost close to US$900 when we factor petrol, balloon gas and accommodation. Possible maximum altitude would be close to 45km or nearly half the way to space (100km by most definitions). At some stage the balloon would explode and the flight would terminate. We would not recover the tracker unless it fell into a very accessible place. It would either explode or float without exploding. Either way the balloon would soon explode within 24 to 48 hours as the strong UV destroys the Latex material.

I buy my balloons from a UK seller:

Balloon Sales:

Zero Pressure Balloon

This is a serious high altitude balloon. A small one weighs nearly 20kg (41 pounds) and will reach 135,000 feet / 41km with a 7kg payload. One is pictured top right. What we are planning (if we get permission from one of the customers) is to cut away the paying payload and continue the flight with a smaller amateur payload designed to do two things:

  • Rise further without a payload to over 45km
  • Stay aloft for many days or weeks traveling around the world

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9The secondary payload would have a communications package with a satellite modem to get back reports on the half hour and as requested. It will also be able to terminate the balloon envelope by command if required. During the night time, the balloon descends as the air cools. If the gas levels are low (leakage over time) it may descend into controlled airspace and it will need to be terminated. We will use solar power and rechargeable batteries and it will engage with local HAM radio operators with UHF RTTY capability and a frequency agile APRS transmitter. This is because there are different frequencies used for APRS in different countries. We may also have slow scan images from the balloon sent via RTTY packets. The images are broken up into 60 to 70 packets and sent with sequential RTTY transmissions. If sent back to the server, these are assembled back into an image. Any missing packets are left as grey or coloured bands. That is the example on the right with two missing packets. This was from a recent HAB flight conducted by my good friend Andy from Melbourne. Jason and I helped with both the launch and recovery.

With hydrogen, we may approach or exceed the 50kg mark and may exceed the maximum altitude of any object in the world other than rockets passing through the atmosphere.  The world record for HAB flights is 53km. We are now designing and building the equipment for flight. We are looking forward to flying with one or both of these missions.

As the customers may have unusual schedules or issues with secondary payloads, we may need to raise some funding through Kickstarter or similar to make this a reality. Minimum funding needed is US$15K.



Jet Stream Snapshot

Australian Jet StreamFind out what the Jet Stream is Doing.

If you are launching a High Altitude Balloon (HAB), it will be in the Jet Stream for a significant time during its flight. You had better know what the jet stream is doing. Predictions are good, but reality is the key. I have found a site that is perfect for this and the method of display is excellent.

Thanks to HAB enthusiast, Andy from Melbourne, for the link. In fact he launched a pico balloon flight (uses a foil balloon) that never got higher than 7,000m because he saw that the jet stream was running north from Melbourne. Before its transmitter battery failed or it ran out of range of the last tracking station it was nearing Bourke in NSW. Not bad for a foil balloon. That is nearly 1,000 kms. Below is a link to the Australian map for the jet stream.

The website is:

Below is the track of Andy’s Pico Balloon flight. There is a small chance that the battery is not flat and it may get picked up by a remote APRS station – HAM radio tracking station. If it gets seen again, we will let you know.

Andy Pico flight 20140217

You can clearly see from the Jet Stream map, that the flight was easily predicted visually.

Other countries will also have their Jet Stream maps – maybe on aviation websites. Search and you may be rewarded with a real tool. You will find many here:




Central America:

Southern America:


Building a Tricopter

IMG_1883Jason Shows his Completed Tricopter – Phase 1.

As part of our work in both doing things in the space sector or our HAB (High Altitude Balloon) flights, we have always needed video from overhead. Building this tricopter is our way of achieving this. Tricopters are stable platforms for video cameras if built right.

This is Jason’s project. He is 11 years old and in Year 7. He has a vast knowledge on flight and also has a model aeroplane and a few small toy helicopters. This is nothing like that. This is a workhorse for our aerospace projects and to monitor details on the ground when we are preparing for a balloon flight or other project. Eventually we expect that we will be able to park the tricopter in the air and have it video the ground without movement in the sky and without anyone having to control it. We will also have point of view screens for the pilot radioing back the front image from an on-board camera. This will be overlaid with instrumentation to help guide the pilot.

If you would like to build such a craft, we will be having a full build video and information. One thing that surprised me was that the craft was very quiet. We can fly it in our yard without any complaints from neighbours.

Before we show you how to get involved, I will show a couple of videos so that you can judge for yourselves. The fully flying tricopter costs about US$300 and the controller and transmitter costs about US$50. Not a bad price for a workhorse like this. Please note that the basic unit does not have a camera. We have added a GoPro in the unit for testing, but we will be building a proper camera mount in later phases of this project. In fact the camera mount will have head tracking. You can look down, up, even left and right to some degree.

Below is our first test flight in our yard. It flew straight away. That was yesterday.

Today we have made it very stable and very manageable. It has been raining so little chance to refine the machine, but unit is looking great. Below is a bit today’s flights.

We will be taking this tricopter to Croatia to assist with Team Stellar’s balloon flights, taking students experiments into the stratosphere. We will have to have batteries shipped ahead of our arrival as we will not be allowed to transport these batteries with us.


Stellar Balloon Mission Gaining Momentum

UpLift-1 Securing the neck and the payloadStellar Balloon – Stratosphere

This is the background detail on the Team Stellar High Altitude Balloon mission that Jason and I are flying to Croatia to assist. The article below is from the Team Stellar website:

Team Stellar is developing a project competition “STELLAR BALLOON – STRATOSPHERE”, open to teams from all interested high schools throughout Croatia.

Team Stellar will launch a science balloon into the stratosphere, about 30 km above the Earth’s surface, to collect data for the purposes of diverse student-designed experiments of the competition participants.

Through this innovative project, high-school students are given the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers from Team Stellar and experience an authentic flight mission from the start to the finish firsthand, while learning practical math, science and engineering skills, among others.


Stellar Balloon flight to the stratosphere in Croatia• stimulate the students’ interest in science and technology

• challenge their imaginative thinking and creativity

• support educational needs of gifted children

• encourage inter-institutional cooperation

• develop teamwork skills

• create a “healthy” environment and interest to improve the educational system and free-time activities

• raise awareness about the natural phenomena and ecological values of the planet Earth


There is no limit to the number of teams that can apply and every high school in Croatia can participate.

In order to join the competition, the applicants must submit an official proposal containing all the necessary documentation, including a clear description of the experiment, scientific objectives, technical plan, team organization, etc. A wide variety of topics may be pursued, including science and weather observations, remote sensing and image processing, engineering demonstrations, electronics, robotics and communications, etc.

Team Stellar and the committee members will select the first 20-50 candidates to participate in the balloon launch.

The selection will be made based on the originality of the idea and the quality of the student-designed experiments.

The schools are responsible for the funding of their teams’ experiments. Team Stellar will provide the necessary resources for the balloon [payload] design.


Team Stellar will award the best three experiments.

Team Stellar will uplift the balloon [payload], track it, collect it upon landing, and return the payloads comprising of various experiments, planned by the students, to the participating teams for further analysis of the gathered data.

Each team is obligated to submit a final report, including the experiment description and the results, along with the entire work process within the team. All the participating high-school teams will have access to the complete results of the experiments.

HAB Data From a Recent Flight

DCIM100GOPROHAB Data from 37km Flight

Recently I published a story on a High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flight I help with for my friend Andy from Melbourne. I was asked about the data collected.

The flight data was only stored from transmissions from the Payloads on the balloon. The payload did not carry a recording device for such data. There were two sets of data returned. RTTY on UHF frequencies and HAM radio APRS. APRS relies, like RTTY, on a number of stations picking up the transmissions and sending the resulting data to the network for storage and display (maps) on a server via the Internet.

Simply this post is to display the data collected and help decode the data. I have not cleaned up the results. They are simply in Text and Word (Docx) format.

Andy Flight 20140208 Text File

Sorry about the formatting in the above file. I will try and fix that shortly, but it does not matter. The formatting is only in the legend for the data.

Andy Flight 20140208  Word File (docx)

This from the data file:

This is the breakdown of the raw HAM Radio APRS data strings. I have chosen the first line of APRS data as an example:

Server Date                             2014-02-08

Server Time                             00:43:06 UTC

Call-sign of the balloon:          VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7    (including the APRS data and call sign of the relay station if applicable)

Beacon TX time                       004300h (time of transmission from the payload)

Latitude and Longitude           3532.44S/14456.90E

Course                                    O052/    Note “O” + course in degrees “052”

Speed                                      000/   knots

Altitude                                     A=000314   feet above sea level

Packet number                        143  – starts at “1” with the first packet of data and increases with each packet.

After this point, the data strings are determined by the user / builder of the tracking unit and spaced by commas. This unit is configured with the following:

Number of satellites                   9

GPS lock (3D)                            3

Navigation Mode                        6     Will work over 60,000 feet

Not used                                    0.0,0.0,

Volts (mV) of Battery                  3296   Note, the battery voltage falls over time and with temperature. The voltage increases as the battery warms before landing

The first few APRS packets of data transmitted every 36 seconds by the tracker:

2014-02-08 00:43:06 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004300h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000314,143,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:43:42 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004336h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,144,10,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:18 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004412h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,145,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:44:54 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004448h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,146,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296
2014-02-08 00:45:30 UTC: VK3YT-11>APRS,WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1,qAR,VK3YT-7:/004524h3532.44S/14456.90EO052/000/A=000318,147,9,3,6,0.0,0.0,3296  (launch)


Balloon flight Payload Recovered

High Altitude Balloon Success. Payload Recovered.Andy PS1 Preparing to fly

Jason and I went to Deniliquin NSW (Australia) to help a good friend, Andy from Melbourne, launch and recover a high altitude balloon / payload. I am part of Team Stellar going for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). I am in charge of Communications, Tracking and Data. Jason (11) is their Australian Student Representative. Jason and I have launched and recovered 16 payloads to date and assisted with others and we love High Altitude Balloons (HABs).

I brought my fellow Team Stellar member, Tim Blaxland and his son Rhys (9) along for the experience. Tim is Stellar’s chief of Navigation. The launch was at Deniliquin and we traveled part of the way there on Friday and the rest early on Saturday morning to be there for a 9:30 start. It was an 8 hour drive and we intended to do another 8 hours back later on Saturday after we recovered the payload.

Fellow HAB enthusiast Todd Hampson also traveled from Sydney in his own vehicle. it was great that we all arrived at the designated point in a timely fashion and started the final preparations for launch. Other than Tim and Reece, we all have Amateur Radio licenses and on this flight we would have 2m APRS tracking system. See earlier posts about APRS. In addition there was also RTTY on UHF. The RTTY system s available for non amateur radio hobbyists to use.

Andy had a video camera camera hooked up to a Raspberry Pi unit. Its job was to break up the video into smaller packets of data and send it along with the RTTY GPS information. The pictures are then sent to a server on the internet and the packets reassembled into a complete picture if all of the packets are received. The transmitter is very low powered and many people set up their equipment to help receive and download the images. Below is an image from the flight. The grey strips are missing packets that no one managed to receive successfully.

Note that at this time of the year, the wheat and other crops  have been harvested and the temperatures are in the 40C range at times. With little rain, the fields are a brown cover. The dark areas are either farms with crops still growing or trees around the rivers that flow through the region.

Andy PS1 flight Deniliquin NSW
















The photo is only from a low resolution camera but the payload also carried a GoPro that took photos. The top image is a small section from the flight camera while it was on the ground.

Here are the details that Andy distributed before the flight:

FYI, there will be a HAB launch from Deniliquin NSW this weekend, Sat 8th Feb 2014 at 11am EST.

 Payloads will be:
– SSDV RTTY 300baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 434.650Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW quarter-wave antenna
– APRS 1200b 145.175Mhz 100mW with dipole antenna
– Cutdown RTTY 100baud, 450Hz shift, 8N1, 432.220Mhz (+- drift) USB, 25mW downlink, quarter-wave antenna.
RTTY tracking will be on, callsigns PS and PSPI
SSDV images will be uploaded to, callsign PSPI
APRS tracking will be on, callsign VK3YT-11

The temperature was 42C / 108F for much of the day and UV protection was essential. Recovery was easy, so we did not have an issue with tracking through the forests looking for the payload.

The flight lasted around 2hrs 50mins, reached max altitude of 36,789m / 120,699ft / 22.9 miles  before the balloon burst and landed in a paddock.

The following images were transmitted whilst in flight:

2014-02-08--01-11-07-PSPI-8C9 2014-02-08--01-43-42-PSPI-8CB2014-02-08--02-04-48-PSPI-8CC





























































The last image was taken close to maximum altitude.

GoPro3 images in the next post. Below, the flight path from left to right. The tropospheric winds (Jet Stream) where pushing the balloon to the eastand the stratospheric winds blew us west . When the balloon burst, the winds eventually took us east again as we passed through the Jetstream.

The Flight PS1 Map The Flight PS1 terrain


Live images from Balloon Flight

Balloon FligAndy Flight still images from balloonI-896ht Scheduled Jan 8th 2014

My friend Andy from Melbourne, Australia is launching a balloon tomorrow. It is expected that the balloon will be sending back live images from over 30km altitude. We will be launching from the NSW country town of Deniliquin at 10am EDST. That is 2300Z Jan 7th.

I will be there with Jason assisting as will a few other of the regulars.

Andy Writes:

Hi Robert,

 Here are some info for the launch:

– Payloads will include SSDV, APRS, RTTY and cutdown

– balloon tracking positions will be uploaded to

– SSDV images will be uploaded to

– Expected altitude is more than 33km

You can track the Balloon on APRS on  – I will send the callsign later as a comment on this page

Jason and i will be leaving about 1 hour after I post this story. You can track us on the APRS service with the callsign of  VK2URB-7 as we travel to Deniliquin. We will probably stop on the way at a motel!